DISILLUSIONMENT [click of a PC mouse]
ANGER [ash falls from a cigarette butt]
PASSION [coffee vigorously stirred]
DETERMINATION [short sharp words down the telephone line]
Mr Ivan Vesely does not conceal his emotions as he speaks of the Roma cause.
His pragmatism is not to be mistaken for indifference or surrender. “Stagnant” may be the term he uses to capture Roma Rights developments over the past 20 years, yet his experiences since the Velvet Revolution seem to act as a remarkable source of energy. “Dzeno Association is situated in the heart of Prague and seeks to go address the very heart of the issue”. A frequently furrowed brow hides the persistent sparkle of resilience and optimism in his eyes. It was that very twinkle that left me leaving Dzeno after my induction intrigued, moved and inspired in spite of the arduous task ahead.
I spoke in my first blog about the pervasiveness of stereotypes. One day in Prague and I have already been exposed to the enormity of the ‘Gypsy’ stereotype and the prejudice it breeds. Ivan’s 20 year narrative is brought to life as Roma board trams in the city – bodies stiffen, bags are clutched and wary glances follow the newcomers’ every move. The issue is not whether these reactions are really unfounded; but that such attitudes are themselves part of the problem. The roots of the Roma’s current socio-economic situation are deep and multifaceted. Exposing the discrimination is one way of beginning to disentangle and address the complexities involved.
Advocacy Project training had taught us that we were there not to attempt to move mountains (I lack the arm power anyway), but to equip marginalised communities with the tools they need to make themselves heard. The first morning with Ivan had demonstrated the seeming futility of such tools in the face of the profound hurdles standing in the way of promoting the rights of minorities such as the Roma. Nevertheless, exposing the injustices IS the beginning of a long process empowering peoples and inducing change. My blog isn’t going to have a grandiose fairytale-like “and they all lived happily ever after” ending. I hope instead to draw attention to the scale of the issue at hand and encourage you the reader to think hard about your own presumptions…does “hooped-earrings, travelling, stealing, windscreen wiping and tax-evasion” really cover it all?
Posted By Christina Hooson
Posted Jun 30th, 2009
July 5, 2009
After reading the bit about cigarettes and coffee I knew you could only be talking about Ivan! Seeing the facade of Dzeno takes me back to last summer and all the feelings that came along with it.
Soak up all you can and try to channel Ivan’s passion into focused action (good luck with that!). This is a really important time for Roma rights in CZ, as you obviously know. Good luck in all you do and I’m looking forward to reading your blog.
July 5, 2009
I echo Colby’s words. That is Ivan to the “T”. What a story he is (and has)! Looking forward to more of your blogs. –Stacy
August 25, 2009
“My blog isn’t going to have a grandiose fairytale-like “and they all lived happily ever after” ending”
Then you MUST be doing something wrong. No, of course… It’s probably almost easier to move mountains than it is to change the ideas in people’s minds, not least when it comes to something that has an air of social acceptability. With regards to Germany, I suspect that the confrontation of “antigypsyism” at large has been very superficial, constiting essentially in the insistation that “gypsies” be referred to as “Sinti und Roma”. But what’s in a name? A “Zigeuner” by any other name must be a thief… I am also not in the least bit surprised to read that you got very mixed reactions when telling people about your fellowship.
August 25, 2009
“The issue is not whether these reactions are really unfounded; but that such attitudes are themselves part of the problem.”
I’m glad to see you’re starting your blog with these words, because (in my humble opinion) that is precisely the point. Stereotyping perpetuates the problem, it only contributes to the isolation, the disenfranchising of a group already on the margins of society. The question is not – and should not be – whether stereotypes are founded or unfounded; the essential quality of stereotypes is not the truth or untruth contained in them. Their most important (and probably most virulent) feature is that they seek to apply totalising conceptions and ideas to individuals who are identified (passive!) as belonging to a certain community (again, defined by the observer). I think you would already have achieved a lot if through your blog and through your work in Prague you got only a handful of people to ask themselves this question instead: Why do I react like this, right now? And tied up with that: Am I right to judge an individual person in view of what I believe to be true about his or her supposed background? And how much do I really even know about this background? And even if I know a fair bit, isn’t there always more?